Transforming Juvenile Justice to Improve Public Safety and Outcomes for Youth, a report from the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR), provides 6 policy recommendations for juvenile justice systems to improve outcomes for youth. Below is CfJJ's assessment of where Massachusetts stands compared to these strategies:
STRATEGY ONE: Decriminalize status offenses and automatically divert all youth who commit certain offenses and are screened as low risk from court involvement.
- Highlight: The Child Requiring Assistance law in Massachusetts has decriminalized status offenses, though concerns remain that children accused of status offenses can later be involved in the juvenile justice system.
- Opportunity: While the new criminal justice legislation authorizes pre-arraignment judicial diversion, it is not automatic. All system leaders (including Probation and the Juvenile Court) should be wary of net-widening and must ensure that diversion is practiced equitably with regard to race and ethnicity.
STRATEGY TWO: Develop professional standards and supports to cultivate a dedicated cadre of juvenile court judges and attorneys
- Highlight: Massachusetts has a unified Juvenile Court as well as a national model for juvenile delinquency defense practice standards at the Youth Advocacy Division (YAD) of CPCS
- Opportunity: The juvenile prosecution bar operates disparately across the state and lacks unified professional standards. Too often, the juvenile prosecutor position is seen as a ‘stepping stone’ to other positions in the office.
STRATEGY THREE: Tie conditions of supervision directly to youth’s delinquent offenses and eliminate the practice of filing technical violations of probation and parole
- Highlight: The ongoing work by Massachusetts Probation Service and the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to develop graduated response guidelines for violations of probation and violations of Grants of Conditional Liberty (GCL) has the potential to reduce technical violations.
- Opportunity: Young people in Massachusetts who receive probation are often saddled with a long list of conditions, which can lead to higher levels of surveillance and probation violations. CfJJ recommends that probation recommend and that juvenile court judges adopt fewer, more tailored probation conditions.
STRaTEGY FOUR: Redefine the primary function of community supervision as promoting positive youth behavior change
- Highlight: Massachusetts Probation Service utilizes the "JPICA", an individualized plan created by a youth and their probation officer based on the results of their intake assessment and the youth’s own goals.
- Opportunity: Expand data collection by Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Agencies to track and assess positive youth development outcomes.
STRATEGY FIVE: Focus case planning and service delivery on strengthening youth’s connections to positive adults, peers, and community supports
- Highlight: DYS has invested in services that connect committed young people to their families.
- Opportunity: Earlier attention to young people's relationships to positive adults at the police, prosecution, and Juvenile Court levels.
StRATEGY SIX: Use data and predictive analytics to guide system decisions and hold supervision agencies, courts, and service providers accountable for improved youth outcomes
- Highlight: DYS collects and shares data, made publicly available through the JDAI initiative. Probation is moving in that direction with its public-facing Tableau page and soon to be implemented NorthPoint case management software.
- Opportunity: The MassCourts data system used by the Trial Court remains a huge challenge for policy makers and practitioners to do data analysis. The Courts lacks a culture of data sharing (even at an aggregate level) that could assist in transparency and pave the way for data-driven policy development.